126 Commercial Road – October 27th, 2008 It’s just before eight o’clock and a dozen or so people are standing, huddled against the cold in front of a mini-cab office in Whitechapel. Commercial Road, to be precise – not Commercial Street. Passers-by might have wondered what we were all doing there. No pub, no club, just a string of shuttered garment wholesalers and a few curry houses. Most likely, more than one of us wondered what we were doing there – and what might await us up the narrow flight of concrete stairs through a busted door. Of course we were there on the latest treasure hunt to see Peter Doherty play. A game of frantic emails to get your name on the ‘list’ that would, with a twenty pound note, guarantee admission. Not so much a secret gig as a challenge to speed and willingness to stumble through the lesser known corners of our fair city to... no one quite knew what. The appearance of Adam Fieck and Andy from Lazy Eye reassured that this was going to happen, and the word spread around that Peter was inside already. But not without testing our hardiness. About an hour after we arrived, people started ascending the steps, two flights up, to reach a gated entrance to what must be a small club, guarded by two amiable Bengali lads. This was, after all, the heart of Bangladeshi London. A long narrow room, remarkably salubrious, actually, despite a slightly unfinished look, with Peter already in place, playing, greeted us, and we found a spot next to the performance area at the side. Performance area is a slightly grand term – a couple of chairs, a pool table on its side, a stool holding a harmonium and a microphone stand marked off the end of the room. It was about ten to nine. For the next two hours, about seventy people danced, laughed and sang along. Adam occupied one of the chairs with a beaten up snare drum between his knees, and accompanied Peter with a pair of broken drumsticks, making the most of the drum rim, the harmonium and the metal feet of the pool table. About twenty minutes in, Mik Whitnall arrived in full motorcycle gear, and someone produced an amp and electric guitar that we trusted had not arrived strapped on the back of the bike. ‘Where’s Drew?’ someone in the crowd shouted out. Peter responded with a mumble that included a discernable ‘baby’. ‘Drew’s having a baby?’ Someone asked. ‘Yeah,’ replied Adam, ‘that’s right, Drew’s having a baby.’ Everyone giggled. The whole event was shambolic, but made up for the half mumbled lyrics, the crap sound and the fit-up feel with a good-time atmosphere and an intimacy that was breathtaking. There were some great musical moments. Unstookietitled and Albion were particularly beautiful. It was lovely to hear Oceans again, now with more structure and lyrics than the last time we’d heard it in the spring. There were lots of unfamiliar songs – some apparently in a state of evolution with incomplete lyrics – and a fair number of covers, including The Smiths, Blur, and most notably to my ear, a rousing, sing-along version of Twist and Shout at the end of Peter’s set. Adam played three of his songs, Entroubled, Pretty Sue and Sparkling Boots, during which Peter joined in on drums, threatened to knock over the stool holding the harmonium whilst playing it rather vigorously, and amused the entire crowd by leaning over to the mic to join Adam in singing at all the wrong moments, and then darting away in repeated confusion. Peter also conducted a corner of the crowd in ‘ahhs’ during Pretty Sue using the drumsticks as makeshift batons. A note on French Dog Blues had instructed the audience to bring instruments, but few complied. A harmonica appeared, as did a tambourine. Adam managed to commandeer the tambourine which was secreted away under the drum. Clearly, ‘bring instruments’ did not mean tambourines. The harmonium sat prominently in the centre of the stage, but no one came forward in response to Peter’s request for a pianist. ‘Wrong type of crowd,’ he muttered. ‘Can’t get the good ones any more.’ Adam had a go at the harmonium, as did Peter to rather less effect, but it was only on the last few songs that the instrument was properly played by one of the Bengali young men who seemed to be associated with the venue. There were lots of songs, some incomplete, and some improvised, including bits of nice blues guitar from Peter and Mik. Peter played around a lot with the lyrics, and with the timing of them... allowing the audience to sing ahead of him, and then coming in himself after we’d finished a phrase. I couldn’t possibly attempt a set list, but it included For Lovers, MWLGO, Tell the King, Carry on Up the Morning, Unbilotitled, Baddie’s Boogie, Killamangiro, Through the Looking Glass, and a particularly rousing version of Time for Heroes. Peter chatted a lot, and aside from the bits said without a microphone, most of it was lost in the muffled PA system. Adam spent most of the gig grinning and making faces, trying to follow what Peter was doing and shrugging good naturedly when things ground to an occasional halt. Peter finished with the announcement, ‘same time tomorrow night’ and made his way off through the crowd, leaving Mik to finish off with I Wish. We wandered towards the door to the strains of ‘Happy Birthday (Abi?)’ to find that the exit was locked, and someone had gone to find the guy with the key to let us all out. Another totally unique, unforgettable night. And you could smoke. What more could a person want?
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